THE SOUTHLAND REGION
Known to the early European settlers and the Maori as Murihiku (last joint of the tail) the main part of Southland lies east of the mountains and lakes of Fiordland. It is made up of a series of plains that have been built up by four major river systems, separated by huge uplifted blocks of land to the north. These lowland areas are the largest and most fertile in the South Island after the Canterbury Plains, and are primarily used for farming. The area has remained relatively isolated and Southlanders have retained their strong local identity. The softly rolled ‘r’ of makes the Southland accent quite distinctive. This is the only regional accent in the country and it reflects the strong Scottish and Presbyterian roots of the Southland people. According to one writer you can’t claim to be a true Southlander unless you support Southland rugby, attend the Bluff Regatta, picnic at the Tuatapere sports day each year and take a punt at the Easter Races at Riverton.
New Zealand’s southernmost town, Bluff is Southland’s main port and the home of a large fishing fleet which harvests rock lobster along with blue cod as well as dredging for oysters. Well known for its April Oyster Festival featuring oyster opening and oyster eating competitions, Bluff marks the southern end of SH1. It is not much further north to Invercargill, the capital of Southland, with over half the population of the region. Stretching over an open plain beside the Waihopai River estuary the city was laid out by John Turnbull Thomson, chief surveyor for the Otago province in 1856. He provided spacious 40 m wide streets, which were named after major Scottish rivers, including the Dee, Tweed, Tay and Clyde. Today the city is renowned for its array of immaculately preserved historic buildings. There are numerous examples of Victorian and Edwardian architecture as well as a range of Art Deco style buildings from the 1930’s and modernist buildings from the 1950s. You can visit many of the old buildings on the heritage trail.
The early Presbyterians were a strong voting force in Invercargill which remained ‘dry’ from 1905 until 1943 when alcohol sales resumed. The Hokonui Moonshine Museum in Gore, features displays on the illicit moonshine whisky ‘pioneers’ of the Hokonui Hills. Moonshine became popular in the Gore district with the advent of localised Prohibition in 1902. ‘Old Hokonui’ whiskey is still made to the original local recipe and available at the museum’s ‘pre-Prohibition colonial bar’. Southland’s second largest town, Gore hosts the national country music awards each year. The town lies on the banks of the Mataura River which is renowned for its brown trout. This is Southland’s most popular brown trout fishing river with an international reputation that attacts large numbers of anglers every year, rewarding them with bountiful catches, part of a phenomenon known locally as the legendary ‘mad Mataura rise’. It is the prolific hatchings of mayfly that make this river perfect for trout fishing, as the trout will rise freely at all times of the day to catch the mayfly. This is why the Mataura River is regarded by many as the best dry fly water in the country, providing over 150 km of fishable water.